• Navya Jagadish

2020: Warmest Year for Earth’s Oceans

Climate change is a very pressing issue in the world right now, as it consists of the long term change in the standard weather patterns of Earth. This change in the weather patterns can lead to problems such as more droughts and heat waves as well as rising sea levels and more intense hurricanes. One major indicator of climate change is ocean warming. Ocean warming is when oceans absorb heat from greenhouse gas emissions which leads to temperatures of the oceans rising. In 2020, the total quantity of heat in the oceans was greater than the amount in any documented year since the 1950s. More than 90% of the heat that carbon emissions trap is absorbed by oceans in the world which helps indicate the problem of climate change (Carrington, 2021). The greater amount of heat that an ocean absorbs leads to warmer waters which melts a lot of ice off in Greenland and Antarctica. The melting of ice leads to rising sea levels as well as stronger tropical storms due to warmer oceans giving more energy for the storms (Temming, 2021). This phenomenon is what led to about 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic in 2020 (Carrington, 2021).

Warmer ocean levels also lead to the rainfall patterns being disrupted which causes droughts, floods, and fires. The heat may also cause the expansion of seawater which can also contribute to the rising sea levels. About 30% of carbon emissions are being drawn in by oceans and due to the warmer waters the carbon dioxide has a lower chance of dissolving which can put marine life at risk as well as pollute the waters (Carrington, 2021). Warmer waters are also harming marine life due to the increase in ocean heat waves. Additionally due to warmer waters, there is a reduction of upwelling and sinking of surface waters which heats up the surface waters even more. The heating up of the surface waters decreases the amount of nutrients that is brought up from below the ocean for marine life at the surface (Carrington, 2021).

A research team from the National Center for Atmospheric Research aimed to estimate the total amount of heat stored in the upper 2,000 meters of the oceans. In order to do this, the team collected data regarding water temperature from all around the world. They found that in 2020, these higher ocean waters had 234 sextillion joules more heat than the yearly average from the years of 1981 to 2010. In comparison to 2019, the heat energy absorbed increased about 20 sextillion joules (Temming, 2021). These findings implied that in 2020, the oceans stored as much heat to be able to boil about 1.3 billion kettles of water (Temming, 2021). Ocean warming is an issue that has many consequences such as causing marine heat waves that kill fish in the ocean as well as coral reefs and increasing the amount of toxic algal blooms that are produced.

The question is: What are we going to do to help this problem?


Carrington, D. (2021, January 13). Climate crisis: Record ocean heat in 2020 SUPERCHARGED

extreme weather. Retrieved February 11, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/13/climate-crisis-record-ocean-heat-in-2020-supercharged-extreme-weather#:~:text=The%20world's%20oceans%20reached%20their,signal%20of%20the%20accelerating%20crisis.

Temming, M. (2021, February 08). 2020 was warmest year on record for Earth's oceans.

Retrieved February 11, 2021, from https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/earth-oceans-storing-heat-record-breaking-amounts

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